Necessary Illusions Copyright © 1989 by Noam Chomsky
Chapter 5: The Utility of Interpretations Segment 3/11
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By aligning itself unequivocally with the United States, fostering foreign investment, guaranteeing the domestic predominance of business interests, and maintaining a basis for repression of labor and political dissidence, the democratic government satisfied the basic conditions demanded by the United States. Correspondingly, it has received a measure of U.S. support. Thus in 1955, when a small force of Costa Ricans attacked border areas from Nicaragua, Figueres suspended individual rights and constitutional guarantees, and repelled the incursion with U.S. aid -- thus not forfeiting his democratic credentials by the repressive measures he instituted, permitted for U.S clients.

Nevertheless, concerns over Costa Rica did not abate. State Department intelligence warned in 1953 that Figueres had turned his country into "a haven for exiles from the dictatorships" and was toying with ideas about "a broad program of economic development and firmer control over foreign investment." He hoped to finance development "preferably by domestic capital" and "does not look with favor upon capital organized beyond the individual or family level. Large private corporations, such as those in the United States, are an anathema in his opinion." He also sought "to increase the bargaining power of the small, undeveloped countries vis-à-vis the large manufacturing nations." He was dangerous, LaFeber comments, "because he hoped to use government powers to free Costa Rica's internal development as much as possible from foreign control," thus undermining "the Good Neighbor policy's assumption that Latin America could be kept in line merely through economic pressure."23

The U.S. government was particularly concerned that the Costa Rican constitution, while outlawing Communism, still provided civil libertarian guarantees that impeded the kind of persecution of dissidents that is mandatory in a well-functioning democracy. And despite Don Pepe's cooperation with U.S. corporations and the CIA, support for U.S. interventions in the region, and general loyalty to the United States over the years, he has continued to exhibit an unacceptable degree of independence, so much so that the leading representative of capitalist democracy in Central America must be excluded from the media, as we have seen.24

If the enemies of democracy are not "Communists," then they are "terrorists"; still better, "Communist terrorists," or terrorists supported by International Communism. The rise and decline of international terrorism in the 1980s provides much insight into "the utility of interpretations."25

What Ronald Reagan and George Shultz call "the evil scourge of terrorism," a plague spread by "depraved opponents of civilization itself" in "a return to barbarism in the modern age," was placed on the agenda of concern by the Reagan administration. From its first days, the administration proclaimed that "international terrorism" would replace Carter's human rights crusade as "the Soul of our foreign policy." The Reaganites would dedicate themselves to defense of the civilized world against the program of international terrorism outlined most prominently in Claire Sterling's influential book The Terror Network. Here, the Soviet Union was identified as the source of the plague, with the endorsement of a new scholarly discipline, whose practitioners were particularly impressed with Sterling's major insight, which provides an irrefutable proof of Soviet guilt. The clinching evidence, as Walter Laqueur phrased it in a review of Sterling's book, is that terrorism occurs "almost exclusively in democratic or relatively democratic countries." By 1985, terrorism in the Middle East/Mediterranean region was selected as the top story of the year in an Associated Press poll of editors and broadcasters, and concern reached fever pitch in subsequent months. The U.S. bombing of Libya in April 1986 largely tamed the monster, and in the following years the plague subsided to more manageable proportions as the Soviet Union and its clients retreated in the face of American courage and determination, according to the preferred account.

The rise and decline of the plague had little relation to anything happening in the world, with one exception: its rise coincided with the need to mobilize the U.S. population to support the Reaganite commitment to state power and violence, and its decline with rising concern over the need to face the costs of Reaganite military Keynesian excesses with their technique of writing "hot checks for $200 billion a year" to create the illusion of prosperity, as vice-presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen phrased the perception of conservative business elements at the 1988 Democratic convention.

The public relations apparatus -- surely the most sophisticated component of the Reagan administration -- was faced with a dual problem in 1981: to frighten the domestic enemy (the general population at home) sufficiently so that they would bear the costs of programs to which they were opposed, while avoiding direct confrontations with the Evil Empire itself, as far too dangerous for us. The solution to the dilemma was to concoct an array of little Satans, tentacles of the Great Satan poised to destroy us, but weak and defenseless so that they could be attacked with impunity: in short, Kremlin-directed international terrorism. The farce proceeded perfectly, with the cooperation of the casuists, whose task was to give a proper interpretation to the term "terrorism," protecting the doctrine that its victims are primarily the democratic countries of the West.

To conduct this campaign of ideological warfare successfully, it was necessary to obscure the central role of the United States in organizing and directing state terror, and to conceal its extensive involvement in international terrorism in earlier years, as in the attack against Cuba, the prime example of "the evil scourge of terrorism" from the early 1960s. Some "historical engineering" was also required with regard to terrorism in the Middle East/Mediterranean region, the primary focus of concern within the propaganda operations. Here, it was necessary to suppress the role of the United States and its Israeli client.

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23 LaFeber, op. cit., 105-6.

24 Cf. p. 63. For further details, see appendix V, section 1.

25 For an account of the origins and progress of this propaganda campaign, see, among others, Herman, The Real Terror Network, and my Towards a New Cold War (introduction), Fateful Triangle, and Pirates and Emperors; see these for references, where not cited below.